Balance on the bear hunt.

The complainant, Keith Bacon, thought an interview on Daybreak North with the producer of a film about the grizzly bear hunt was one sided and failed to challenge what he had to say. He was also suspicious about the funding of the documentary. Balance is achieved over time. The interview met CBC journalistic standards.

COMPLAINT

You objected to an interview with the producer of a documentary film entitled “The Grizzly Truth” which is an examination of the controversy over the hunt of grizzly bears. You sent your complaint to CBC directly, as well as to other networks which featured interviews with him. You said that the interview was one-sided and failed to challenge his assertions about the economics of the hunt, and what he characterized as myths about grizzlies. He was allowed to make statements that were unsubstantiated in your view. You stated said he had no proof that the taxpayers of British Columbia subsidized the cost of the hunt, and he should have been challenged on it. You believe that “someone paid” Mr. Reissmann to make this film based on the fact that on his Facebook page it states that “other people pay him money to travel the word and do his documentaries.”

I've listened now to this individual on two other broadcast...On all three occasions this man has been allowed to put his point of view forward with no challenging rebuttal what so ever. And he does so with blatantly supportive interviewers. Do you people understand what an echo chamber is? Mr. Reissmann makes the claim that BC taxpayers are flipping the bill for the Grizzly hunt. Do they? Do you know or did you ask him how he knew? Did you go to the government and ask to validate that statement? He claims that male bears do not kill cubs. That's blatantly false. But regardless of what I say, did you talk to a real bear biologist to find out? Do you realize that Mr. Reissmann is a hired gun for the tourism industry and promoting that industry is how he makes his money? Do you know that it's been a long-standing bone of contention with the Eco-fascist tourism industry that bear hunting and bear tourism cannot coincide (not the other way around). Hunters are happy to work with that industry.) Did you ask him who financed his documentary? When asked why he did the film, he states it's out of personal interest.

You also pointed out that his Facebook page shows connections to various organizations that oppose hunting bears. You thought this showed Mr. Reissmann was being disingenuous when asked why he had made the film, and that he had no intention of truly presenting both views in the production. You believe he had an agenda to discredit the bear hunt and further the interests of the tourist industry, especially eco-tourism:

On the CBC program Mr. Reissmann was asked why he did the documentary and about his feelings concerning the bear hunt. Although he did admit to not supporting the hunt, he did so in a somewhat dispassionate manner and stating the reason he did the documentary was because he found the interplay between the various parties interesting.

You thought that there should have been a lengthy pre-interview of the filmmaker and that he should have been “properly vetted”. Instead, you said the programmers had blindly accepted his story at face value.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Lorna Haeber, the then Senior Director of Journalism and Programming, responded to your concerns. She said that many documentaries have a point of view and that this was one of them. She pointed out that Mr. Reissmann acknowledged his bias, but that there were a range of views presented in the documentary. She did not agree that the interviewer failed to challenge any of his positions:

You also suggest Daybreak host Carolina de Ryk did not challenge Mr. Reissmann. I disagree. She challenged him asking "What do you make of the BC Wildlife Federation's perspective that science doesn't back up the need to ban the hunt?" She also asked "How hard was it to capture all sides?" which resulted in the filmmaker admitting that it was difficult as he couldn't get any hunters in BC to speak with him.

She also told you that CBC journalistic policy requires that balance on matters of controversy can be achieved over time. She said that this interview aired because it was the day the documentary was being released online, but that earlier in March when there was a different news peg, the noon show in British Columbia, Almanac, had aired a segment on the grizzly hunt. She added that both pro- and anti-hunt advocates were able to present their points of view.

REVIEW

You are right to hold CBC journalists to the highest standards, to expect them to be well informed and when appropriate to challenge the views of their interviewees. This is an iterative process. The truth is that not every segment and interview is created equal. The context, framing and format are also relevant.

As Ms. Haeber pointed out to you, CBC journalistic policy calls for balance and fairness over time:

We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

This interview was not presented as an in-depth debate about the grizzly bear hunt. It was framed as a discussion with a filmmaker whose documentary was just being released. He was not presented as an expert or as the last word on the subject. His point of view was clearly stated so that anyone listening to the interview would be able to assess and evaluate the information he presented. The interviewer, Carolina de Ryk, framed the discussion in her opening remarks:

Filmmaker Tom Reissmann attempts to capture the ongoing fight between hunters and conservationists over Grizzlies. Shooting the top predators is still popular enough that a lottery is needed to decide who gets to shoot. But so too is the level of criticism and opposition to killing one of nature's top predators. We've reached Tom Reissmann by phone this morning with more.

The film does, in fact, present a range of views and features - those for and against the hunt. There is nothing incorrect in characterizing it in that way. It is also acceptable to interview an author or filmmaker and explore his or her ideas and views without having to present the other side at the same time. Most of the interview centres around the making of the film and how it came together, rather than particulars of the argument on either side. A morning show host is a generalist, and as I previously stated, in this context was seeking the views and experience of the person who had made this documentary; she did put to him data that supported the hunt. As for her questions about myths, that was his characterization and his opinion. It is acceptable to allow an interviewee to put forward his or her views, especially when there are no accepted facts or conclusions. The statements you take issue with seem to have evidence and data that support both sides of the argument. You disagree but that does not preclude hearing Mr. Reissmann’s conclusions. This interview was clearly about seeking the views of this one person. As Ms. Haeber also told you, a few weeks before this broadcast, Almanac - the noon show broadcast - featured an examination of the issue of the hunt. Scott Ellis, the Executive Director of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. - the umbrella group for hunting guides - was a participant. You thought this did not provide balance because he would be considered biased, as he is a knowledgeable advocate for a pro-hunting position. Your suggestion to seek out a “neutral” scientist is an interesting one. The notable and often frustrating thing is that experts can look at the same data and interpret it differently and come to different conclusions. There are a few issues where the consensus is so overwhelming that the need to present a range of views is limited - this is not one of them. The job of journalists is to seek out those viewpoints over time so that citizens can evaluate the information and come to their own conclusions. CBC Journalistic policy on opinion states that “When presenting content (programs, program segments, or digital content) where a single opinion or point of view is featured, we ensure that a diversity of perspective is provided across a network or platform and in an appropriate time frame.” The Almanac episode as well as ongoing news coverage of the controversy fulfill that requirement.

You were very concerned that Mr. Reissmann was a tourism marketer and this somehow created an inherent bias. I understand that in this case there is conflict between the tour operators who offer bear viewing experiences and those who facilitate hunting, but those non-resident hunters are also tourists. A quick scan of the range of videos produced by his company reveals a range of material about many European cities and other tourist destinations. Being associated with the tourism industry is not in and of itself a proof of bias. You rejected the explanation he gave for doing the film, characterizing his answers as somewhat dispassionate. You have come to a set of conclusions about his true motives, which you imply are because he is in the payroll of anti-hunting organizations. I have spoken to the programmers and they said they decided to do the interview because the release of the film coincided with the start of the hunt. This was one segment in ongoing coverage of a controversial issue.

The programmers did not ask or research the funding of the film. It would have been better had they done so. Having said that, it was not presented as neutral. Mr. Reissmann’s point of view was clearly stated and therefore others, like you, might choose to discount his opinions and conclusions. That does not mean that the interview was inappropriate or in violation of policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman